"Akit is the man. He knows Clipper." (spenta)
"It’s a fantastic blog for any San Franciscan."
"Your blog is always on point, and well researched!" (Nina Decker)
"Everyone's favorite volunteer public policy consultant..." (Eve Batey, SF Appeal)
"You are doing a great job keeping on top of Translink stuff. Keep up the good work!"
(Greg Dewar, N Judah Chronicles)
"...I don't even bother subscribing anywhere else for my local public transportation info. You have it all..."
(Empowered Follower)
"If anyone at City Hall wants to make public transit better for all San Franciscans, it would be wise to follow Akit religiously...
or, better yet, give him a job."
(Brock Keeling, SFist)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Back from Mexico on the Star Princess, what Swine Flu? More cruise ships to visit San Francisco SOON

Just yesterday, I disembarked from the Star Princess cruise ship at Pier 35 in San Francisco. I was aboard a ten day Mexican Riviera cruise with stops at Acapulco, Manzanillo, Puerto Vallara, and Cabo San Lucas. And three "at sea" (transit) days going south and two going north after the last stop in Cabo.

The most frequent question I was asked when I returned to work is, "you got the flu?" And I was like "NO!"

When I disembarked, I noticed that KTVU and KGO radio was there to interview people who just departed and were to embark soon. KGO-TV (ABC 7) decided to get their helicopter and film the ship departing for its next cruise to Mexico.

But really everyone, the cruise ship was far away from any real danger from this Swine Flu.

The Star Princess has satellite TV and all cabins can at least receive the BBC, and one of CNN's news broadcast sister stations. Those stations had priority over others like the Cartoon network and TNT's coverage of the NBA playoffs.

The Swine flu story did not hit the TV news until we reached Cabo San Lucas, and it was not in "hyper news" mode. It was typically the headline story, but coverage mostly focused on that Miss USA controversy with Miss California. It was until our last two days at sea that the word was breaking out like crazy about the illness spreading to the United States and the media going crazy and wild with every single minute on the flu.

For the Star Princess, it was not much of a major concern. With the norovirus being the big headliner news of the cruise industry, all the cruise lines, including Princess has taken very serious prevention measures to stop the spread of the stomach virus. But these prevention measures and the actions the ship's crew asked the public to take upon also helps dramatically reduce the risk of the Swine Flu.

Princess has done the following during my trip, even before the words "Swine Flu" hit the TV airwaves:
  1. Passengers are surveyed about any illnesses before boarding the ship.
  2. Hand sanitizers are available at every food venue. For example, the pizza and burger bars have hand sanitizers next to where you order, and the Horizon Court buffet has a station next to the stack of plates.
  3. All the public restrooms have reminders over the toilet and urinal stalls to wash hands for at least 20 seconds.
  4. The daily "Princess Patter" had a health reminder published everyday including warnings about eating at the Mexican ports (don't drink the water!! The classic joke...).
  5. They frequently sanitized areas of the ship, like the handrails, lounge bar tables, and other public areas.
Especially noted, when this story started coming into the news, it was happening in Mexico city, and even the nearest port we stopped in Mexico was at least four hours away by car from the capitol.

I guess our cruise was the lucky one, we got out just in time. The Star Princess departed yesterday afternoon going on a three day at-sea journey to the southern most port of Acapulco and will head up north to the other ports before returning to San Francisco is approximately nine days. I'm checking with my colleagues at Cruise Critic for more info, but the Star Princess info has not been published.

HOWEVER: I just checked the ship's webcam and the ship is now heading to Ensenada, Mexico. It looks like the ship will be making their "technical stop" for legal reasons (it's a foreign flagged ship and by U.S. law, requires to stop in at least one foreign port), but Princess has not released any word about the ship making a different route, such as doing a U.S. West Coast trip.

For all you San Franciscans who work near the Wharf or major tourism companies in the city, there are ships that will be coming to Pier 35 sometime soon and a MEGASHIP will be visiting on a weekly basis. With many cruise companies turning away from Mexico, they need some place to stop to keep the passengers from turning the ship into a mutiny. Cruise Critic has some information, but...

Official postings from the Pier 35 website is as followed:
  • Carnival: Carnival Splendor will make an SF appearance instead of stopping at Cabo San Lucas. Not updated on Pier 35 website, but is on Cruise Critic. I'm assuming that the ship is in route right now and should show-up soon. That ship is HUGE and it met-up with the Star Princess just about five days ago at Cabo San Lucas.
  • Celebrity: Celebrity Infinity will arrive on May 11, 2009 (PIER 27). Word from the company is that it is currently doing a repositioning cruise and Mexico's ports will be skipped.
  • Crystal: Crystal Serenity will arrive on May 5, 2009. The company has not released any info, but they are heading south from Victoria, Canada and after SF, will stop in Los Angeles.
  • Fred.Olsen: Balmoral will arrive on April 29, 2009 (TOMORROW). The company says they are on a world cruise and will be skipping Mexico for Costa Rica and Guatemala.
  • NCL: NCL Pearl will arrive on May 5, 2009. No info at company's website, but April 29 and May 1st port of calls in Mexico have been cancelled (via Cruise Critic).
  • Princess: Star Princess will arrive on May 7, 2009 (regularly scheduled disembarkation).
  • Royal Caribbean: Serenade of the Seas will arrive May 2, 2009 (repositioning?).
  • Royal Caribbean: Radiance of the Seas will arrive on May 13, 2009 (looks like a repositioning).
  • Royal Caribbean: Mariner of the Seas will arrive on Mondays from 2PM to 8PM. The cruise originates from Los Angeles (round-trip), with stops at San Francisco, Victoria (Canada) and Seattle. It will do a west coast U.S. trip instead of its planned Mexico trip. Not published in Pier 35 website, but is on the RCC's website. Details for the ship and new ports of calls is here. Arrival dates at SF: 5/4, 5/11, 5/25, 6/1, 6/8, 6/15, 6/22, 6/29, 7/6, 7/13, 7/20, 8/3, 8/10, 8/17, 8/24, and 8/31. That ship alone carries over 3,100 passengers. Star Princess met the Mariner of the Seas at its stop in Puerto Vallara.
I think our tourism industry is going to have a good time. Remember to pay those taxes so maybe we can fix MUNI!!!!

So after all this fear about sickness from my cruise and getting that out of the way, I had a lot of fun! Sorry for not posting on my blog during my ten day absence, but I was having way too much fun, including being in a hypnotist show. People told me that I was the most hilarious, especially when I was asked to rub my butt on the carpet and the lounge furniture.

UPDATE: Word from a user from Cruise Critic reports that the recently departed Star Princess will now stop at: Long Beach, Santa Barbara, Catalina Island, and San Diego. It will skip all Mexico ports other than the required one by law (Ensenada). I guess I should be lucky that I didn't take this later departure.

UPDATE #2: The Sapphire Princess will be visiting San Francisco sometime within a seven day period starting on May 2nd. This itinerary change is posted in the USA Today blog. Their arrival to SF is May 7th (update from Princess Cruises).

UPDATE #3: The Carnival Splendor ship is out at sea right now and is planning to make only one stop... San Francisco. Word has it the passengers are pissed. See at Cruise Critic and their message board.

UPDATE #4: The Pacific Princess will stop in San Francisco on May 11th from 9AM to 10PM on its northbound journey towards Seattle. This is posted on the Princess Cruises website.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I think Translink and the MTC likes me... (Muni? No)

I got this in the mail just a few days ago from the folks at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, my own Translink t-shirt!

They also mailed me a second little gift, a Translink logo USB memory key.

The handwritten note I received from one of the administrators at the MTC mentioned: "Thank you for your support of Translink" and somehow they also have my address. Now that I think of it, I did register my address with Translink.

With all the blog postings about my personal support and ideas for Translink, I think the folks at MTC is looking for a partner to keep on promoting them.

I have to say, this shirt is one of a kind.

At least I have some public transit allies out there, unlike the folks at SFMTA/Muni... heee heee haa haa haa (in an evil tone).

But I wonder why they decided me to send these two nice gifts? Was it that unofficial Translink mob trip I participated in? See video below:

Lastly, I'll be on a much needed vacation, and I'll try to post while I'm out of town. But it'll be one quick posting because the frickin' internet is not free.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

OutsideLands 2009 - Here comes the bad comments

OutsideLands... the big festival during August in San Francisco. If you have been reading my blog entries, I've been the leading negative point of view about the event, causing hundreds (and maybe thousands) of visitors to converge on my site.

Word has is that this mega event for 2009 released its list of bands that will be performing. This includes Pearl Jam, Black Eyed Peas, and the Dave Matthews band.

But since the Chronicle posted the list of bands, comment land was open for all... at least a third of the comments posted on the Gate was negative comments about the hell they experienced last year alone. And I'm going to share those comments with you!

  • I said: "Great... a major event on a Friday. Ask the Friday afternoon commuters last year who had to suffer on Muni with skipping buses, and super crowded conditions."
  • I also said: "Muni is not ready to take this kind of brunt. The system will be on the brink of destruction and insanity because while this three-day festival is taking place, Muni metro is also responsible for the three-game series at AT&T Park. OutsideLands should start considering to contract out private bus companies to shuttle the masses to the closest BART station (probably Civic Center or Daly City)."
  • Citizen said: "Weak lineup this year and definitely not worth spending hundreds of dollars on. Last year was a waste of time. Short set lists and the sound cut out during two of the three 'headliners'. The General Admission areas were so over-crowded at times that people had to be pulled out and carried away, while the 'amenities' of the VIP areas never quite seemed justify the top-dollar price of admission. All this, and an overlapping schedule that forced you to choose one band over another (and then get caught in a stampede rushing from one stage to the next). I'll save my cash and check out bands in smaller venues throughout the year."
  • Mudwaters said: word of advice: Don't buy the tix and get it at WILL CALL. We waited 2 hours to get our FREAKIN' tix. We missed 30 mins of Radiohead last year. Not worth the $100 we paid. Also they better organize the shows so they don't collide with each other. PICK UP YOUR GARBAGE PEOPLE!
  • Sffili said: "Plus- lineup, venue, layaway ticket plan. Minus- crazy out of town crowds with no SF resident discount (for out of town-ers trashing the park, and crowding/delaying muni), still SUPER expensive...did they learn anything from last year?!"
  • Sfhopeful said: "Take a walk through Speedway Meadows and you'll see the HUGE ruts and bald spots that are STILL not healed from last year's Outside Lands. I run there almost every day and NOTHING AT ALL has been done to repair the huge damage that was done last year by this concert. I am a huge fan of concerts and love these bands -- but Golden Gate Park is one of the greatest urban parks in the world -- but the City is whoring it and doing untold damage to it because it needs the money. A concert this size for 3 days SHOULD NEVER be allowed in this area."
  • Sfhopeful also said: "Imagine if you are a resident of the Richmond or Sunset. You have NO SAY whatsoever about this being held -- it's just done. THREE DAYS of music for hours and hours -- and it is VERY loud for blocks. that's great if you chose to go to the concert - but what if you're 80 and sick in bed? What if you don't like the music? Hardly Strictly has to end in the evening, this went well into the night THREE DAYS really gets on your nerves. Plus, people have to jockey cars for 3 days so they always have one parked in their own drives ($100 ticket, cause it's illegal to do that!) or they'd be blocked in and unable to get out, tow service backed up for hours... Like I said, I like the music -- but believe me, it's different when you're at a concert vs. trying to do work or put your kids down for a nap or invite friends over for dinner. AS usual, the City just tells tax-paying homeowners to screw themselves and walks roughshod over us."
  • Sfhopeful said too: "I did not choose to buy property next to AT&T Park of the Oakland Coliseum. I chose to buy it three doors from a beautiful park and open space. Now, it's not one or two events - it's enormous events drawing hundreds of thousands all summer long: Bay-to-Breakers, AIDS walk, Nike Women's Marathon, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Outsides Lands. All GREAT EVENTS! All great causes! And I love the bands! But huge swathes of the Park are fenced off throughout the summer, Speedway and Marx Meadows are hugely damaged, and having this many people all summer in what was planned as a quiet, residential neighborhood -- with no parking facilities not great mass transit and no shops, etc. near the park (because it's a PARK, not a stadium) -- it's just gotten totally out of hand. Before you bad-mouth me, remember that not everyone in the world is 17-25 and imagine you had finally saved to buy a home in a quiet neighborhood near a PARK -- and this is what happened over the next 15 years..."
  • hpbromine said: "Pardon me for asking a pretty fundamental question. Why should anything be allowed that chases the folks that live in the area out of their homes for 3 days because of noise? Seems to me that a reasonable amount of peace and quiet is a right; not one that the city has any right to auction off for the benefit of folks who don't live in the area. The suggestion that driving folks out of their homes is OK so long as 'not too many calls were received' is totally absurd. I'd like to see neighbors get together and sue the city for damages. After all, if the city is going to profit from an event that chases folks from their homes, then those folks ought to receive compensation for the inconvenience."
  • missiondweller2 said: "I have to say I feel for the neighbors who are inconvenienced. I'm sure the local businesses don't see much increase either."
  • markatos said: "This sucked last year. Overpriced, people were extremely rude walking on top of people who were sitting down, radiohead's sounds kept cutting out, crowd control wasn't even apparent with people tearing fences down. This festival is bogus."
  • schueyshadow1 said: "For those of us who live in the Outer Sunset and spend all summer re-routing our lives for the sake of the Rec and Park Dept's coffers, I hope the exorbitant ticket price drives a stake through the heart of this event. You could have the Second Coming as a headliner and it would still annoy the neighbors."
  • stevied20 said: "Public parks, which belong to the people of this city, should not be closed off for private profit making businesses unless every taxpayer gets a check in the mail. The parks belong to the people of this city, not to the corrupt Dept of Parks and Recreation. On another related issue, if money is not going to Muni for extra runs to the park then Muni should not provide the service. Last year I waited for an hour and a half for a bus to the Sunset. I finally took a cab. As we passed Golden Gate Park there were at least 20 buses waiting for the concert to end so they could pick up concert goers. This is a big scam on the people who live in this city."
  • vernshillinger said: "I hope the DPW has enough tow trucks on hand to tow away the cars illegally parked in driveways. Last year I had to wait for an hour to get out of my garage. A few pieces of advice if you're one of the unwashed masses attending this event: 1. Take MUNI, bike, pay for a cab, walk or hitchhike -don't drive. B. Clean up after yourself, don't litter my front yard. 3. - The street isn't a toilet. 4. If you do drive and choose to park illegally - Oh Oh, Better Call Maaco."
  • opinions_r_like said: "Hey, where can I pay $299 to never have to hear Dave Matthews Band or Pearl Jam again?"
  • thenisaid said: "This sucked so hard. I went last year on Friday and was excited to attend, and ended up swearing off festivals because of how terrible the experience was."
  • nezumi said: "Not only is the MUNI situation going to be horrific, parking will be a general disaster because of the Academy of Science and Tut exhibition at the DeYoung. Rec and Park really ought to consider other locations as there are simply not enough services or properly paved roads on the west side. I am already trying to figure out whether it will be more efficient to go downtown or out to the Beach to get from the Richmond to the Sunset on MUNI during summer since there are no real decent supermarkets (butcher & produce) on this side. It normally took 30-45 minutes to get from Lincoln Way to Fulton Street when the parking lot was full. As to all you non-west siders, we don't hear the music; we hear the drums and bass only and some high notes from singers. It depends on exactly the speakers are placed. Essentially, it is loud, throbbing and non-descript. I personally don't care for mobs and portapotties so go enjoy yourselves. Don't park on my sidewalk or puke on my front stairs. Pick up your trash too."
  • james718 said: "Does anyone even remember the last time muni 'stepped up to the plate' for any large, special event? Look up 'Golden Gate Bridge 50th Year Anniversary' if you care to read a horror story."
That's enough negative comments to read. This city has made a deal with the devil and everyone is going to hell. NO PARK EVENT SHOULD EVER START ON A FRIDAY and CONTINUE THROUGH THE EVENING. It's a public park for freakin' sake.

If you want to call me a NIMBY, go ahead, and go to that concert. But just wait until you say:
"You were right Akit, we got screwed over by Muni, OutsideLands, overpriced taxicabs, overflowing porta-johns, and much more."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Muni Fare Inspectors are stupid & mean spirited ***holes

I'm getting really sick of these stories. I keep reading around the web that people are being issued citations for "fare evasion" for simply having an expired transfer. Now, I'm not talking about some transfer that expired yesterday or just a few hours ago, I mean the ones that are less than an hour expired, and in some cases, just less than 30 minutes.

(Read back: a previous posting on my blog questioning the expired transfer policy)

And where is this happening? Our "wonderful" and "fabulous" Muni metro, home to the fare inspectors who could be considered by our city's citizens as the most hated bunch of people working for Muni.

I'm writing about this because I want to mention a recent unfortunate incident for this particular Muni passenger who got a citation for an expired Muni transfer that was ONLY 9 MINUTES EXPIRED. This was posted on Saturday, April 11, 2009.

"I rode MUNI Metro for the first time yesterday, took the N from Powell out to Ocean Beach. It was slow, uncomfortable and noisy. Surprisingly much less enjoyable than BART. I had a transfer that was good until 3:45. I got on the train to head back at just before 3:00, figured that'd be more than enough time to get back to Powell before my transfer expires. Of course, there was traffic and the train was backed up for quite some time. I got into Powell st at about 3:54, and of course ran into fare inspectors at the gates. I was fined $50 for fare evasion, for being 9 minutes past my transfer time. I explained, and he recommended I fight it, which I absolutely will. But I think they're taking this too far. I understand fining SERIOUS fare evaders, but it's obvious I wasn't trying to get something for nothing, my train was just a few minutes late!

It seems that MUNI is hurting, and this is a really good way of gathering a bunch of money very quickly. At $50 per person, or more if it's not the first offense, they can make up for all the people that get away with fare evasion regularly.


Really? It looks like fare inspectors don't give a shit if the train went too slowly, or maybe there was some incident in the system that backed-up all the trains.

Do you know what I think? They put fare inspectors on the metro system because Muni knows that's an easy way to rake money (yeah, but they are losing TONS of money when you compare their salaries vs. what they write for tickets). If they don't feel like maintaining their trains and they break down in the tunnel, Muni management would be dancing with joy and not giving a shit that pissed-off passengers who just got off a long delayed train are now being ticketed for "fare evasion."

Also, I believe Muni doesn't put fare inspectors on buses and the historic streetcars because if a bus gets delayed, passengers can easily get-off the surface vehicle and take another one, or just walk it. In the tunnel, if you get stuck, there's no escape, and you are just bait for the hungry fare inspectors ready to piss you off for an expired transfer. And it's not your fault if the train is stuck because some maintenance guy forgot to tighten the screws on a door that's now broken (see photo), so why should passengers be hassled by fare inspectors on an unexpected delay?

Fare inspectors are supposed to be for SERIOUS violations of the law (no proof or way too expired transfer), not this petty 10 minute expiration. For a system that only has seven stations underground (where most fare inspectors hang out), Muni sure has plenty of money to conduct fare inspections with people who make $50,000+ yearly, and they make much more than me, a person who has a Master's degree, plus, Muni fare inspectors only requires a high school diploma and basic math skills. I manage the day to day operations of two major accounts at my job, multiple purchase orders, and multiple corporate credit cards requiring more than just basic math skills.

Want to hire someone for a $50,000 salary? Find people who have at least BACHELOR DEGREE and knows the keywords COMPASSION and FORGIVENESS.

And just to note, an old article from the Examiner written by Ken Garcia mentions that many of the fare inspectors were hired because they completed the TURF program, an ex-Mayor Willie Brown program for at risk youth. Garcia also notes that people hired by the city through this program have been stirring up trouble for whatever city agency they work for. Putting them as ticket toting ticket writers is... um... not the greatest idea.

Now, I can't claim that all fare inspectors are total jackasses, there may only be a select few that are totally ruining the entire system.

Luckily, the SFMTA is eliminating 28 fare inspector positions due to the budget problems, and that's a very good thing. Hopefully some of those so-called "badass" fare inspectors will finally be shown the door, with no need for a hearing on the wide variety of complaints nailed on them from various citizens.

Let's just wait for the hell that will come when Muni may start charging for transfers and the fare inspectors asking themselves... if a passenger is taking one metro train directly home and doesn't need a 50 cent transfer, where's he/she's proof of payment? Or maybe they should ask themselves, where's the nearest unemployment office? Since it's pointless to ask for a fare receipt anymore.

Easy tip for everyone: Take the damn bus, and screw the metro. You might actually make it by bus faster.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Are you going to the SF Cherry Blossom Festival? (April 11-12 and 18-19)

There's always one thing that makes-up for all the complaints here at my blog, a festival!

Japantown SF is hosting the annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, and it is this weekend and next weekend. The parade happens on Sunday the 19th at approximately 1PM.

There is... live entertainment, from music bands to Taiko drumming, arts and crafts booths, information tables for local community organizations and good causes (for example, bone marrow donor program), games for the kids, and all the great food.

If there's only one reason why you go to Cherry Blossom, it's THE FOOD. And why?
  1. Made by hard working volunteers, many who have done it for over 10 years, and some for over 30. I've volunteered for over ten years.
  2. Each booth is operated by a community non-profit organization. You know that your money is going to good causes, instead of for-profit corporations at many other festivals in the city.
  3. Each booth doesn't compete against each other. There's no two teriyaki chicken booths, so everyone gets a fair shot at raising money.
  4. Legendary food items that have been served at Cherry Blossom for decades. From Kimochi's Teriburgers to Konko Church's Imagawa Yaki (sweet been paste filled sandwiches); people tell me they always come back for their annual "fix."

Tips for all you J-Town visitors during the festival weekends:
  1. Leave the car at home and TAKE THE BUS. If you think you'll find free street parking or a space in the Japantown parking lot, nope! The 38-Geary, 38L-Geary Limited, 2-Clement, 3-Jackson, and 4-Sutter serves Japantown.
  2. Going to the parade? Bring your lawn chair and get a great view early in the morning. The SFPD are not putting up the metal barricades anymore, just a yellow colored rope wrapped around each meter.
  3. To beat the parade crowds, find a nice spot away from Japantown. Any location on the route between Civic Center and Post/Laguna is much less crowded.
  4. The food is great, but try to get your food during the non-peak hours. Peak hours are usually from 11:30 to 1PM (the lunch crowd). During the parade day, shorter lines are during the parade. And please, buy more than one item, you'll like it so much, you'll regret going back in line to get another.
  5. Bring a friend, and/or your family! It's always nice to see smiling people walking around J-Town.
I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

SF 311 Costs Muni $6.2 MILLION?

And you think the Muni budget nightmare can't get any worse, until now...

Word from SF Appeal is that the SF 311 program costs Muni $6.2 million for their operators to provide Muni and NextBus (or so-called "NextMuni") information. Based on all that math, each phone call costs Muni $1.92.

And I have to ask myself... is this some kind of stupid joke? This was Newsom's pet project, but while the operators are helpful in most occasions, help with Muni questions is not their best field.

Remember the days when you could call "6-SF-MUNI" and you quickly get a person on the phone who will help you? In those days, they knew Muni like the back of their hand; quick to give you an answer and give you the correct routes to take where ever you needed to go in the city. They can also look-up time schedules for you in a mere matter of seconds.

Unfortunately, 311 are not well equipped to take-on Muni questions. In my last few experiences, they take minutes, unlike Muni's phone center taking just seconds. They heavily depend on their computer workstations to find the information, and a lot of times, they provide the wrong information. I think they depend on the 511 Trip Planner program, and I honestly feel that program has been flawed ever since 511 started using it.

Here's a quick example. You need to get from the Cliff House to Pier 39.
  • 311: They will ask you where is the Cliff House (I'M NOT KIDDING), and using their computer, tell you all the options to get to your final destination. Time taken: 2-4 minutes.
  • Muni info line: Will immediately tell you to take the 38L, and transfer to the 47. They won't ask you where the Cliff House is located. Time taken: 30 seconds.
Winner: Muni information line.

Also, since it take Muni info folks much less time to answer questions, there is less need for Muni phone operators. Since it takes 311 much longer to answer Muni related questions, they need more people to take the brunt of phone calls, which means each person equals at least a $30,000+ salary (not including benefits).

As for NextBus information:
311 should work with TellMe networks to make an automated voice command system. Several years back, a random user of the "TellMe extensions" program wrote a program that used the tacky voice speaking program (similar to BART's train arrival voices), used voice commands for people to name addresses, intersections, and major train stations, and used the data directly from the NextBus website to communicate back the next arrival times. And IT WORKED.

But I also don't understand... why do people call for NextBus info when literally every stop with a shelter has a Nextbus sign installed? People with data plans on their cell phone can easily get their NextBus info and even bookmark their usual routes (I do that), and even using the NextBus website at work and bookmarking the Google Map on where the vehicles are (I use this too).

I'm able to time when I should leave my home and office so I never wait for a bus for more than five minutes. Even if I need to transfer to another bus, just a couple of minutes of using the mobile NextBus will help me on how long I have to wait for the next vehicle to take me to my destination is very helpful.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Worst SFMTA Muni Fee Hikes and Route Changes

If you haven't noticed the "NextBus" signs at most bus stops, it is telling people about the big changes that might happen to SF Muni as early as July 1, 2009. While some of their proposed ideas won't cause too much ruckus, like raising the fare of special event service and raising motorcycle parking rates, some of their other ideas are just outright nuts or are missing some important questions that needs to be answered. Just how many brain cells are the folks at the SFMTA missing?

First up, the increases in fees:
The SFMTA released a PDF document of the possible changes to paying for transit and parking services. Here's my opinions on some of the craziest ideas:
  • Charge a 50 cent fee for transfers. Are they just nuts? The bus drivers freely place the transfers on a rubber band attached to the farebox and people take them as they pay their fares. Most bus drivers don't even pay attention to the fare box and usually assume that people paid their full fare. Does this also mean when I pre-purchase a transfer for the ride back from the Giant's game that I will also pay the additional 50 cent fee, or since I just want to take one ride so I can transfer to BART (a much more reliable and trustworthy system) that I will not be charged this fee increase? Remember folks, over ten years ago, SFMTA eliminated transfers and the passengers revolted so loudly, that in six months, transfers returned.
  • One huge question: If transfers will be 50 cents, then what is OFFICIAL PROOF OF PAYMENT for passengers who don't want a TRANSFER? What will Muni issue as POP to prevent you from getting a ticket for fare evasion? This means totally restructuring the POP program and printing new POP (non-transfer) tickets and passengers who don't want a transfer now has to carry a piece of paper that really makes no sense at all. Smart people may realize that they can carry this POP receipt, board a back door of another train or bus, and get away with "proof" when a fare inspector asks for a receipt.
  • "Premium pass?" Well, they ripped-off my original idea, but why add express buses to the list as a "premium" service? BART and the Cable Cars are the true "premium" service. Plus, if I was carrying a regular (will now be known as "cheap") pass, what is the surcharge for riding the express? How about the 9X? People may just decide to enter from the rear door more often to avoid the premium charge.
  • Extend parking meters to 10PM instead of the usual 6PM. Just how much more money will it cost DPT meter maids to patrol the meters that late (including vehicle maintenance)? Plus, I don't think the meter maids union will like the idea of forcing employees to work the night shift, when they could be at home eating dinner with their family.
  • Sunday meter service? Not a bad idea for places like Irving street, but the question comes up again, how much more money will it cost for the meter maids to patrol on a Sunday? Plus, I depend on the fee-free meters on Sunday for major Japantown events due to my large amount of hours I volunteer there.
  • Increase parking garage rates. I agree that some city owned garages could use a fee hike, but I disagree with raising fees on the already expensive garages, like the garage next to the Metreon and Westfield (SF Centre).
Changes/termination/reduction in vehicle route service (this can vary, depending on which "option" they pick):
  • Cutting out the Ocean Beach branch of the 38-Geary is a really bad idea. I have a feeling that by eliminating this route, they won't increase the number of 38L-Geary Limited and 38-Geary Ft. Miley branch vehicles. Each Richmond district terminal locations are at capacity; for example, the 38L's terminal can take up to three articulated 60 ft. buses at one time, and usually if there is a fourth one, it has to illegally park next to the Seal Rock Inn. Also, if they don't increase buses to make-up for the loss, the vehicles will get even more crowded, like insane crowded.
  • Removing N-Judah service on the Embarcadero on weekends. Not bad, but does this mean a reduction in train service for the thousands of passengers leaving the baseball game and depending on Muni to get them to BART Embarcadero?
  • 66-Quintara service eliminated west of 19th avenue? Then the route will only go ten city blocks, from 9th Avenue to 19th! That's too damn short.
  • 18-46th Avenue service to follow possible eliminated 38-Geary Ocean Beach branch service is a really terrible idea. That line serves the Cliff House, and is the perfect connection for tourists to visit the Legion of Honor. Plus, the hills are so steep, the 18 is necessary for people who have disabilities or limited mobility. Also, forcing it to serve the Ocean Beach branch will make the route EVEN SLOWER (plenty of stop signs). The current 18 route is quick since it goes through traffic signals, very few stop signs, and drives on a main drag (Pt. Lobos/Geary). Hey Supervisor Eric Mar, the Richmond could really use your influential power to stop them from pulling this stunt.
  • Shutting-off community service routes at 8:30PM. Being an SFSU employee, I think the 17-Parkmerced plays an important role, especially for students and faculty who work or study late and live within the Parkmerced and University Park North communities. The route may also be helpful for the Stonestown workers who live in one of these communities nearby the SFSU campus. Plus, if Muni metro service is unreliable, the 17 supplements service to SFSU and some of the M-Ocean View routes.

Some of my proposed solutions:
I keep emphasizing these ideas, but I'll focus on the best ones that will benefit everyone the most:
  • Yes, the Culturebus service must be terminated immediately. The 5-Fulton does a decent job to serve the Culturebus stops, either nearby or just a short few minute walk.
  • I previously proposed cutting the fare inspector force. Muni will terminate 28 fare inspector positions. That's a step in the right direction. Just remember to terminate the major assholes who piss the passengers off at every moment. Calm fare inspectors work better to not agitate the already pissed-off public who ride the crappiest service in town.
  • Motorcycle meter rates must go up, they pay a super cheap rate for hours of parking, plus no short term limit of one hour.
  • If they will charge for transfers, increase the time limit to two hours. Passengers get pissed at the fare inspectors when their transfer expires when they get stuck in the tunnel due to some unfortunate incident.
  • Transfers should be FREE for passengers who ride the express buses and pay the so-called "premium" fee. AC Transit gives their Transbay passengers a free local AC bus transfer.
  • Once the economy goes back up and there's more money for Muni, will this mean the return of the cut service? What promises will SFMTA/Muni back this up with? Do we need them to sign some covenants to make this official?

And my best solution ever...
GET TRANSLINK OUT IN FULL FORCE! If they do this, they can...
  1. Reduce printing costs on passes and transfers.
  2. Faster and efficient boarding of vehicles, meaning fewer delays and more reliable service.
  3. Reduce maintenance costs on the fareboxes.
  4. Reduce cost of sorting money and change.
  5. With BART planning to be on Translink in early June, make the proposed "premium" fast pass on Translink only. Express bus boarding is even faster, and BART doesn't have to mess with demagnetized Muni passes. Then, Muni only needs to print one type of pass, meaning less waste for the retailers who sell them.
  6. Stop printing token tickets. There are very few vendors who sell them, and only one takes Commuter Checks. Each token ticket costs the same as a regular fare, so Translink e-cash can easily replace it. Plus, Commuter Checks can be electronically transferred to your Translink account, therefore releasing the leash on riding only one transit agency.
  7. With all this effciency with Translink, Muni should offer a small incentive for cash payers. Say a 5 cent discount for full cash fares, and if they plan to charge for transfers, a 25 cent discount (25 cent transfer charge). Efficiency has its rewards.
So, what can you do to tell your POV about all these damn cuts and fare hikes?
Go to an SFMTA meeting or write to them. Click here to learn more.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Not in Touch with the Japanese American Issues - The SF Cherry Blossom Queen Program

Featured in this week's Nichi Bei Times is the upcoming 2009 Cherry Blossom Festival, and will take over the neighborhood for two weekends on April 14, 15, 21, and 22. One of the major events of the Cherry Blossom Festival is the Queen program, which offers young adult Japanese American women an opportunity to participate in a "pageant" (however, I have been told this word is not used anymore) where the six candidates compete over the queen title. But more importantly, they learn about traditional (Meiji era) Japanese customs, the "spirit" of the Japanese American community, proper etiquette, and community service.

As part of my thesis work, I mentioned a lot about this queen program and how it affects the community with regard to the mixed heritage/ethnicity/race issues. One of my goals with my Master's thesis work is to share my research and opinions with the community, and I feel that now is the perfect time for you readers to get an insight into the controversy of the queen program and how its policies affect more than just women trying to win the title of "Queen."


As Asian American Studies experts know, the next generations of Japanese Americans are becoming much more mixed, with Census statistics showing over 50% of the 0-30 year old Japanese American population being mixed with another ethnicity or race. This is primarily due to a high outmarriage rate, as well as a lack of immigration of Japanese citizens to the United States today. In order for some Japanese American programs to survive, they created eligibility policies, which was enforced by the percentage of Japanese ethnicity.

The mixed heritage issue and topic has created a rift in the community, where some still have decided on a strict standard of enforcement by blood, while others have welcomed anyone, regardless of their Japanese American ancestry to participate. People's reactions are also a mixed bag, where some feel disgusted that there is even a mixed Japanese American population, others welcome it and are willing to discuss it openly, and there are many who are not interested in talking about it or don't even understand the potential issues, benefits, and problems.


What made me want to write this blog piece is with regards to the interview portion of the queen candidates in the newspaper. Everyone was asked the same questions, but this particular question I noticed hit a personal nerve:
  • "Given the high rates of intermarriage/outmarriage in the Japanese American community, and current rules and regulations, it may be possible that your children or grandchildren may be excluded from participation in such things as this Queen Program and some sports leagues. How do you feel about this prospect?"
The question the program organizers asked is in really poor taste with my personal view of the future of Japanese American communities. What they are trying to encourage is to keep enforcing this ethnic standard, in which we can allow or deny an individual access to programs and services in the Japanese American community in the future on the basis of their blood, but also on the way they look, and their personal feelings and attachment to the Japanese American culture.

The potential problem of the continual restrictions for people to access programs and services like the queen program and basketball leagues is that it starts tearing the community apart. The Japantown community and its population is shrinking; but when we add a growing population of mixed heritage individuals that will become even more diverse generation after generation, people will shy away from Japanese American communities because they are not welcomed.

Are the queen program/pageant organizers trying to put a fear tactic into the community saying that "your future children and grandchildren are not welcomed" if people marry someone other than a person of Japanese ancestry?

When we tell people that you are not "welcome" to a Japanese American community, the overall power of the community goes down. When the community faces troubling issues, only the "welcomed" individuals will step-up and fight for the community, but the consequence is that by excluding people, you also don't have as much power to fight back.

It should be noted: Japanese American sports teams used to enforce a 50% Japanese Ancestry rule, but have decided that since the kids participating are sometimes 25% Japanese American, that excluding them from opportunities to be part of the Japanese American community is inappropriate. The Queen program still enforces a minimum 50% ancestry rule.


So what am I proposing? I think Japanese American communities should drop the ethnicity policies for programs like the queen program.

The queen program has been extremely controversial. While on one end, having ethnicity regulations for eligibility helps preserve the program to be "Japanese," others can be disqualified if they are less than 50% Japanese American by ethnicity, REGARDLESS if they have a stronger sense of Japanese American identity over someone who may be 100% Japanese American by ethnicity.

If someone was only 25% Japanese American by ancestry, but feels 100% Japanese and participate in the Japanese American heavily, it's just not fair to exclude her from participating in a program that recognizes good people doing good things for their community.

Lastly, with a high population of mixed heritage individuals, a portion of our next generation of community leaders and organization high-ranking officers will be mixed. My thesis research shows that the leadership within the mixed Japanese American population: females will lead the community; but even more interesting is that women of Japanese-White ancestries will be more likely the leaders.

I know that I'm going to generate a lot of heat in Japantown for this blog posting when Cherry Blossom comes around. They all know where to find me.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

SF Giants Garlic Fries goes "Green" - An excuse for soggy fries?

Today is a big day at AT&T Park, the Giants will be going against the Oakland A's in their first exhibition game for the year. This means rowdy crowds cheering on their favorite team, and the occasional fight causing the SFPD to intervene and arrest the drunks.

But the special news from the ballpark today is the ballpark is turning into an eco-friendly place, and recently received LEED certification for retrofitting an existing facility.

A fan favorite of AT&T Park is the Gilroy Garlic Fries stalls that are all around the ballpark. The San Francisco Examiner reports that the "green" fry stand uses 32% less natural gas than before, saves 36% of electricity by upgrading the lighting, and uses biodegradable and recyclable products to serve their customers their hot fries and cool beverages.

But the one thing lingers in my mind. Is going green (a.k.a. efficiency) just an excuse for soggy or non-perfectly cooked fries?

It is a known fact around the ballpark that if you purchase your garlic fries on the lower deck or upper deck stands, a majority of the time, they are not crispy, and sometimes soggy. But whenever you go to the club level or the field club food stands, they cook their fries perfectly with the right crunch.

I am assuming that because of the high demand and long lines for fries on the upper and lower decks, the fry cooks may have to cook it in shorter amounts of time to keep the lines from getting too long. The field club food section (which I personally recommend it, if you can afford a ticket) and club level have much shorter lines, and are able to cook it longer, and possibly in smaller batches for the perfect crunch.

Since the photo the Examiner provided shows one of the stands either on the lower deck or upper deck, will these "green" efficiency improvements make the fries better? Get back to me Giants staff.

Lastly, Costco is offering a deal on Giants tickets. Get two tickets for any regular home game between April and June for only $25 with NO SURCHARGE. The only rules: bleacher and upper reserved only. In certain sections of the park (usually several sections behind home plate), only the upper half of the upper reserved can be used with the ticket card issued by Costco.